Why are the amendments to the Law on Mass Media dangerous?
Today, the "House of Representatives" adopted amendments to the Law on the Media in the first reading.
After analyzing the document, it becomes clear that little will change for the state media, but a number of independent media are under attack. The editor-in-chief of the site Charter'97 Natallia Radzina discussed these issues in the Belsat studio.
– Less than a month passed since we learned about these amendments till their adoption. Why are the Belarusian authorities in such a hurry?
– And why did the Belarusian authorities block the Charter'97 website three months ago? Obviously, there can be different reasons. First of all, Lukashenka is afraid of losing power, since he is absolutely unpopular in the country. Therefore, the dictator is trying to destroy freedom of speech in Belarus.
It began three months ago, when the authorities blocked the most popular independent media resource with a lot of readers, which frightened the Belarusian authorities. Amendments, adopted by the silent majority in the so-called "parliament", will affect directly those media that remained inside the country. They will completely tighten the screws on mass media. In general, they offer the editors of the remaining independent media in Belarus to be official intelligence informers or simply "snitches." Because editors of registered sites will have to provide data on the readers commenting on articles published on these sites, as well as on journalists who publish the articles. That is, all these people will be under attack.
But what there's also other danger. After the destruction of the Belarusian independent media, they will give the entire information space of Belarus to the "Russian world", under the influence of Putin's propaganda.
– Charter'97 and Belarusian Partisan have been blocked for three months already. Can you say how Charter’s audience has changed over this time?
– We are still the most popular independent website today. For example, even being blocked, we are 10-15 times more popular than the Radio Svaboda website. Of course, we are fighting against the blocking. We are fighting just in the same way as Telegram is fighting in Russia today, offering the readers various ways of bypassing the blocking, constantly writing about this, reminding, spreading information. And the audience remains unchanged – about 800 thousand unique visitors and 20 million views per month. It's still a fairly large audience. To be sure, it is impossible to block the Internet completely, as the case with Telegram demonstrates it today, but the trend is very dangerous, and solidarity is very important today. The solidarity of Belarusians, the solidarity of journalists with each other and the reaction of the international community to what is happening.
Since, they have blocked Charter in Belarus, and have blocked Telegram in Russia. These events are of the same kind, one follows from the other. As Belarus has always been Russia’s testing ground for breaking in technologies, repression, where the international community’s reaction is observed. Therefore, in this situation, today it is very important for us to cooperate, as well as for our Russian colleagues. I admire Pavel Durov, who has challenged the entire Russian system.
– Exactly. I also wonder how this is technically possible in our time, because as far as I know these new amendments provide for blocking pages that are not registered. All foreign media, according to the new amendments to the law on the media, will be forced to register and get permission to disseminate information in Belarus. I cannot understand how they will succeed technically. If, for example, Belsat, or someone else, does not get such permission, then what? Technically, the Internet cannot be blocked.
– Technically, the whole Internet really cannot be shut off. Today it’s illustrated by Roskomnadzor’s example. What they are doing is already funny. They say that soon Roskomnadzor will manage to cut off Russia from the SWIFT system. Today censors resemble the Pithecanthropus, which is trying to keep up with the supersonic aircraft. But I would not rejoice today, because it reveals a very dangerous trend. Obviously, the dictators have decided to turn their countries into North Koreas. Previously, we used to think that North Korea was somewhere far away, and we had more or less decent live, were allowed to do something. And now all the dictatorships use North Korea’s experience.
If we take the map of Eurasia, we will see: Lukashenka is an enemy of the Internet in Belarus, independent websites, social networks are blocked in Russia, Azerbaijan blocks independent websites, including the television that works from abroad (the same as with Belsat), the Internet is blocked in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, independent websites are blocked in Turkey, Kazakhstan blocks independent websites, including foreign ones, including Forbes, there’s a firewall in China. Most of today’s Eurasia has no free internet. And what are the countries without free Internet? This is dictatorship, this is war. Today we are witnessing this cyber war, which is being led by both Putin and Lukashenka.
– At the last round table, where Lukashenka gathered the state media only, it was said that there should be more Belarusian content, that the Belarusian state media should grab hold of larger space, pushing back the independent media. Isn’t that an attempt to clear the media space so that more state media could enter there and have a greater impact on Belarusians?
– Firstly, Lukashenka's propaganda loses heavily to Belarusian independent media, I remind that before the blocking, the audience of Charter'97 had been larger than the Internet audience of all the state media rolled into one. People simply do not watch Lukashenka's propaganda. And whatever Lukashenka is saying, today he is simply giving the Belarusian information field under the influence of Russian propaganda. Since, what are we observing today?
– On the contrary, he says he wants more Belarusian and less Russian content.
– Who do you believe and who are you listening to? Smart people believe we must interpret what Lukashenka says conversely. What do we see today? Belarusians watch Russian TV, they do not watch Belarusian channels. Belarusians read Russian newspapers, mainly the ones with huge print runs (Komsomolskaya Pravda, Argumenty i Fakty), they listen to Russian FM radio stations or to herbivorous, non-informational, but with Russian pop music, Belarusian stations. And after the Charter97.org blocking, we saw just a terrible trend. There is a flow of Belarusians from the Belarusian Internet segment to the Russian segment. Over the past three months, since Charter was blocked, the number of views of information sites by Belarusians in the Russian segment has grown dramatically. And it will get worse and worse. We see that today Belarus, in general, is prepared for the occupation by Russia, because absolutely all of its information space is occupied by the Putin propaganda machine. Today Lukashenka is betraying the interests of his Motherland and hands Belarus over to Putin. That's what the dictator is doing today.
– Is it scary to compete with state media? Are you afraid of this new competition, as even money is to be invested there?
– I'm not afraid. Why did Lukashenka sack all his main propagandists immediately after the blocking of the Charter 97 website? Because they placed our figures on his table. And he saw that he had been investing millions of state funds in his propaganda, and Belarusians read Charter, existing on very little money, because it writes the truth. Belarusians do not watch Lukashenka's rusty, false propaganda. Because, when a person sees how he lives, he will never believe BT.
But, I repeat, now the danger is that with the blocking, with the destruction of the Belarusian independent media, Belarus is being put under the occupation of Russia. Given that Belarusians believe Russian television. They do not see how people live in Russia, and they do not see what is happening in the regions, what poverty there is. And they believe in this fairy tale on Russian television, which is expensive, talented, in which huge resources are invested.
– And it seems to me that Aliaksandr Lukashenka has set the following task for his journalists: to show Belarus more, to an accomplished standard, in order to compete.
– If he shows the truth, gives the floor to ordinary people, as Belsat does in the regions, for example, if these people's pain... We do a lot of interviews with people from the regions, ordinary people. They tell us how they live. It's poverty, it's hopelessness. And if it is shown on the Belarusian state television, if the opposition is allowed there, if there is a real discussion and debate, then the audience will grow. But if it does not happen, all this lies, falsehood and propaganda will always lose to independent media.
– The opposition will never be allowed to the Belarusian state television and it simply will not happen, otherwise he will lose control over the information field.
– We will continue to struggle.